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In response to Haseeb Drabu’s column Airbrushing Abdullah

Haseeb Drabu's piece Airbrushing Abdullah came like a breather. After a long spell of suffocation, we got something to read that concerns our present. At least the focus shifted from the global to the local, from the inconsequential space-filling to an impact-making opinion. More so it offered a much needed ignition to an almost frozen thought in Kashmir. It also made me scratch my itch eight months after. Courtesy Haseeb. I liked the manner in which he had captured the theme and – in all possible clarity – conveyed the message he meant. Good to read the hat metaphor and the way he connected it to the present political scenario in Kashmir.

This noxious trend of renaming institutions reflects a medieval mindset. Even tribals have given up the practice of changing names. It doesn't actually change anything, it shows the new low our political system can plunge into. Marauders of the ancient history would peg the flag in a conquered territory and give it a name of their choice. Erasing the old marks, raising the new – they would take it as a proof of conquest. In the twenty first century when domination has changed its meaning from physical to mental, how does a primitive method satisfy a system that claims to be democratic? Rewriting history, renaming banners, reclaiming what they think as the lost space and infact redoing everything afresh –a new dawn of darkness has set in.

Who knows how much it spreads and how long. It's deadlier than the corona virus that is threatening to swallow the human race if not checked.

What is happening here. The old is fading out, the new is fading in. And while giving that blood transfusion to us, we are seeing what many had foreseen seven decades earlier. There is no doubt that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah – like any single largest party that emerges in an election – emerges as the single largest figure in the recent political history of Kashmir.

Largest by the standards of popular appeal, largest by the impact he had on a common Kashmiri of the time, largest by the political legacy he left behind him. Largest by all means and by all measures – except for one. Integrity.  His ever changing, ever swinging stances made it difficult for his biographers to lock him in a single mould. That is why even those to whom he sold the trust of his people suspected his loyalty towards them.

Deleting Sheikh Abdullah from Kashmir history though delights my rational, but pains my emotional side. Delights because the man got a posthumous reward which though came a little late but came nevertheless, and pains not because Sheikh deserves or reserves a special place in my heart for what he did, pains because we are being shown the abyss we can be thrown into.

But my relation with SMA is entirely different from Delhi's relation with him and that defines my reason behind both my delight and my pain. Someone who gave Delhi what Delhi couldn't have taken without him is written off as a leader and portrayed as a villain. It's a fitting end to a story that began with betrayal. Of many hats the Sheikh donned, and the author counts, the one that outweighs all is the hat of mistrust. His being a nationalist, a communist or a secularist was actually the maneuvering that best suited the situation he was trapped in. They are hats of convenience which he exchanged with time and place.

Expediency may allow it, integrity won't.  The whole history and the turn of events is a loud witness to this case of mass betrayal which we can't euphemize as a mere `error of judgment' or `an act of compulsion' or `the only way left'. Whoever does a plain, unbiased reading of pre and post '47 history of Kashmir will have no trouble understanding the magnitude of the sin which the author still hesitates to accept as cardinal. Here he misses the point. Or may be chooses to miss it as it applies to many (including the author himself). 

He too did all he could to sew the tear, mend the hole and repair a damaged relationship between Delhi and Kashmir. The results are no different. Infact what he and his team did was no less grave than what Sheikh did. And what they got as a reward for their allegiance was no less painful than what Sheikh got. Mufti – I now realize – was a blessed man as he escaped by dying. His daughter now bears the burden of what her father left as a legacy. It's history coming a full circle.

The story is not about renaming places and institutions. It's not just about cancelling a holiday. It's about the soul of a nation crushed beyond repair. Our narration doesn't have to start from condemning the other, but punishing the self. What I expect from genuine thinking minds like Haseeb Drabu is a deep sense of guilt as they too have a fair share in this collective crime. They too tried to fill the unfilled gaps that could cement `the north pole' with `the south pole' and the result is the same Sheikh story. They repeated the same act expecting a different outcome which goes against the law of sanity (and honesty).

If removing Sheikh from the Kashmir chapter today hurts those who claim to be true Kashmiri nationals, why then would they justify allying with those who had bared their plans the day they scripted the agenda of alliance. Unless we come out of the business of justification, we will continue to deceive ourselves.

Unless our version of secularism is based on the reality that confronts us, unless our nationalism travels beyond the parochial notions of ethnic constructs of language and culture, unless we affirm our identity as who we are and not as who they want us to be, we are condemned to suffer this misery which has just begun for us. Airbrushing is just a beginning which annihilation is the end of.

Your tone, infact our tone towards our people at this juncture has to be confessionary – not patronizing, apologetic – not sanctimonious. This is not the time for you to lament the loss of your secular legacy which has earned us ignominy and defeat over and over again.

This is the time to admit your bit. Though in scale, situation and the fallout it had, your crime can't be compared with SMA's, but in principles it's as serious as his. You too abused the people's trust the way he did. You too sold a slogan to your people the way he did. Your politics was no less expedient than his. You built a wall on the foundations he laid. If his sin is unpardonable, what is yours? 

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